How Santa Cruz Has Changed And Why Jason Collins Is Moving To Alaska
Catching up with a man called “Rat Boy”.
“I can take the heckling…I can dish it out and take it,” laughs Rat Boy.
Not overtly excited about interviews or seeing his face plastered across a website, Jason “Rat Boy” Collins, one of the pioneers of the Air Show concept and a Santa Cruz fixture, understands the necessity of such media obligations and is a willing participant.
Still, he’d rather be fishing.
“I already surfed this morning,” he says. “I caught two waves and called it.”
“Santa Cruz has changed a lot. I usually surf the more out-of-the-way spots now. I paddle out somewhere and I don’t know anybody in the water. It’s weird. I’ve been surfing here 40 years and all these strangers seem to know one another, but I don’t know any of them,” he laments.
Part of it is the deluge of tech money gushing in from over the hill in Silicon Valley.
“There are all these 30-year-old guys surfing at 10:00, they’ve got the kitted-out Mercedes Sprinter vans, it’s expensive to live here, and I’m like, how are there this many guys pulling this off?” he ponders. “Then I guess they go home and do their coding or whatever all night? I don’t know what they do.”
The other portion of the Santa Cruz crowd equation is the noticeable change in the demographics at UC Santa Cruz, the local four-year university.
“It used to be all hippies, but now you got a lot of international students,” he continues. “And everyone wants to be a surfer, I guess. I’ve always just wanted to go surfing.”
Oh, he hasn’t lost those creepy crawlers either!
Still holding down sponsors, including Salty Crew, Santa Cruz Surfboards, Smith Optics and Vans (he’s even repping Santa Cruz Salmon Jerky…you know, for substance), these days Rat’s less likely to show up at a contest than he is to sit for an interview.
“I hated every minute of every contest I was ever in,” he matter-of-factly announces. “It was a job, a means to an end to just keep surfing. It facilitated my surfing. I was never one of those guys that thrived on competition. People were tripping when I got the wildcard to the Cold Water a few years ago. I got heckled, but you gotta do what you gotta do, right?”
He’s emphatic that he still loves the high-flying art of wave riding, but nowadays it comes from more of a purist’s perspective. Just being on and around the water is enough, a couple waves in the morning’s all the better. Living a few blocks from the harbor, when he’s not dodging crowds he’s probably adrift in the kelp patties on his boat.
“It’s right there, I can go out for a couple hours, fish and just get away from everything,” he says. “I got my first boat in ’91 and I’ve had too many to count since then.”
Married without kids, his wife’s a math teacher, Rat Boy supplements the family income via his angling skills.
“I’ve got a few restaurants and clients in town that we sell too. Mostly halibut and when the salmon are running we can do alright. We try and catch fish that can make us some money, but it’s always a good time,” he says. “I also sometimes take people out fishing. I get as much joy and satisfaction out of watching them catch fish as I do catching them myself. It all started when I got injured and was just looking for something to do. I’m hooked, so to speak.”
Around the turn of the 21st Century, shortly after fellow harbor lurker Josh Mulcoy sojourned north, Rat Boy found his way to Alaska. He fell in love immediately and has been going back for years. This year he purchased a lot in wave-rich Yakutat.
“There’s a lot of surf up there, and I don’t think that people really realize that in the summer the water’s actually pretty warm. There’s a current that comes over from Japan and you can get away with a 3/2 and booties…which is pretty warm for somebody from Santa Cruz,” he laughs. “And the fishing, it doesn’t really get any better.”
“My wife and I will be going up again in July, I can’t wait. It’s a breath of fresh air getting up there,” he continues. “We already have water and power to the lot and we have plans to put a cabin on it.”
Once the cabin’s tuned up he has plans to split time between Alaska in the summer and Santa Cruz in the winter, which doesn’t sound like a bad plan at all.
“I haven’t spent a winter up there yet,” he admits. “But I’d like to.”
Winter in Alaska, now that’ll be the true test of Rat’s love for the northern wilderness.
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